(SEPTEMBER 15, 2021) – Last Friday, members of the United States Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) Independent Beef Processing Committee met with leadership at USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to discuss the agency’s updated guidance on mask use in “small” and “very small” plants, or those facilities with up to 499 employees.
The same regulations imposed on large processing facilities are not feasible for small and mid-sized operations. USCA believes there to is a solution that allows for COVID-cognizant rules while not impeding the day-to-day operations of our members’ facilities.
For instance, the slaughter floor is an impossible place to “mask up”. Carcasses are being sprayed and boiled at temperatures of up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, making masks stick to employees’ faces and rendering its protection from transmission of the virus useless.
Small and mid-sized facilities are also less likely to have “assembly line” style harvesting processes. Instead, employees are moving about, disrupting the virus transmission path and breaking the cycle of exposure time.
Finally, there is a food and human safety concern with the use of masks on the kill floor. Visibility decreases as glasses and face shields fog up and masks muffle voices, making it difficult to communicate with coworkers. Our members need to be able to see the carcasses they are working on and communicate quickly and efficiently with those around them.
Recently, Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) along with Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) wrote to Secretary Tom Vilsack regarding the mask mandate. USCA commends these Senators for bringing attention to this matter.
“We stand with these businesses in taking issue with this federal overreach by FSIS,” wrote the Senators. “Individual processing facilities and plants have established policies to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19 that work best for their employees and operations and are adhering to local and state guidance and restrictions.”
USCA will be following up with a formal letter of our own to USDA FSIS leadership. We want to hear how this mandate impacts YOU and YOUR business. Please reach out and let us know you’d like to get involved with USCA’s Independent Beef Processing Committee.